The Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park production of “Julius Caesar” opened on Monday night under unusual circumstances: A firestorm of criticism from the right over the use of an actor styled as President Trump to portray Caesar, and then knifed to death as part of the story, led three major corporate donors to distance themselves from the show.
After the opening-night performance, and before the party that followed, Oskar Eustis, artistic director of the Public and director of the “Julius Caesar” production, sat down in the Delacorte Theater for a few minutes to answer questions about the matter.[Read why “Julius Caesar” speaks to the politics of today.]
He noted that a few years earlier there had been an American production of the play in which Caesar was Obama-like, and no controversy had ensued. He also sharply criticized The New York Times for publishing a review of the play, which defended the staging, before the official opening. The Times cited the unfolding controversy as a rationale for doing so, but Mr. Eustis argued that the publication had become a tool of the outrage machine.
These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
What were you trying to tell us about our politics today with this particular staging?
We have faced a transition and a set of electoral choices, which are clearly destabilizing our democratic norms. Now, the question is, How do we respond to that? What do we do about it? And this, if you will, is a progressive’s nightmare vision of that.
For me, the whole thing is an anxiety nightmare parable about our current state, and that’s why it looks the way it looks.
Is Trump Caesar?
Of course not. Julius Caesar is Julius Caesar. What we are doing is what we try and do in every production, which is make the dramatic stakes as real and powerful for contemporary people as we can, in our time and our place.
Did you anticipate the outrage?
No. But all of this stuff is not about my production of “Julius Caesar.” This is about the right-wing hate machine. Those thousands of people who are calling our corporate sponsors to complain about this — none of them have seen the show. They’re not interested in seeing the show. They haven’t read “Julius Caesar.” They are being manipulated by “Fox & Friends” and other news sources, which are deliberately, for their own gain, trying to rile people up and turn them against an imagined enemy, which we are not.
You know by this…